The major issues with the song “Gay Pirates” by Cosmo Jarvis are twofold, somewhat intertwined, and as follows:

1. gratuitous torture porn, and
2. historical inaccuracy.

A quick look at the lyrics shows us this song really, REALLY wants to tell us all about every single horrible thing Cosmo Jarvis thinks a gay pirate would go through. Not even twenty seconds into the song itself, we are explicitly informed that at least one of the gay pirates is gang-raped every single night by the rest of the crew. You’d think that’d be enough torture for one homosexual love ballad, but wait, there’s more!

They are given saltwater to drink (which is essentially a death sentence); beaten, whipped, AND lashed (again, you’d think just one flogging with a cat-o’-nine-tails would do the trick, but no); and forced to walk in glass-filled sandals, which sounds like a great way to sever a tendon and be rendered permanently lame, if not hit an artery and bleed the fuck out.

Add all that together, and “Gay Pirates” starts to look a bit like Saw at sea. It’s not just the unbelievable volume of the torture Sebastian’s lover goes through, it’s the odd specificity with which it’s lovingly described. It’s so over-the-top it almost transcends horror to become funny in a sick sort of way, which we can only hope was not Cosmo Jarvis’ intention.

Speaking of, what the hell was Cosmo Jarvis’ intention?

Maybe they were trying to have a dramatic contrast between the adorable romance (focused on in the chorus) and the literal physical torment of being gay on a pirate ship (the focus of the verses). But again, the torture is so fucking cartoonish in its severity that it overshoots clever juxtaposition and becomes straight-up jarring.

Or perhaps they wanted to bring attention to the persecution of queer people in history; a fine goal indeed. However, if you’re trying to bring awareness to a serious issue, you might want to actually research said issue. A cursory Google search, at least.

Which brings us to point #2: Historical accuracy, and the complete lack of it in “Gay Pirates”.

Given the title of the song, we can assume that all the events take place aboard a pirate ship. So why does the pirate captain care so very much about who’s buggering who aboard his ship?

For everyone going “but wait! sodomy was illegal! that’s why he hated them!”, I would like to take a moment to remind you that THEY. ARE. PIRATES. Pirates don’t care about the law. That’s why they’re pirates.

Knowing that, we can expect pirates would probably be fairly indifferent towards two crewmen getting their mack on. But the aforementioned cursory Google search reveals something more: a little term called “matelotage.”

Matelotage is a lifelong male/male partnership practiced among Tortugan buccaneers; the participants in such a partnership are called matelots. According to Wikipedia,

Matelots shared their beds, property, food, and loot with one another. The extent to which matelotage included homosexuality is controversial. Although a few historians have claimed, with no evidence, that homosexuality was universal among the buccaneers, it is recognized by most that matelots shared women as well as their chattels, and that buccaneers were frequent and enthusiastic patrons of female prostitutes. It is nevertheless agreed that a substantial minority of buccaneer matelots were likely homosexual.

tl;dr – It looks a lot like what Queequeg and Ishmael get up to in Moby-Dick.

In short, not only do pirates have no reason to hate sodomy outright, but they even have a marriage-like system in place for male partnerships that, in some cases, involved a romantic relationship.

So why are the pirates in “Gay Pirates” so hell-bent on punishing sodomites? (Heck, for all we know, Sebastian and his lover aren’t even physically acting on their queer emotions! According to the lyrics, they exchange only significant glances and words of affection.) Did Sebastian and boyfriend accidentally stumble onto probably the only homophobic pirate ship in the Caribbean?

The worst part about “Gay Pirates” is that it’s not total crap. At least 50% of the lyrics are genuinely heartbreaking. (I admit it; “I hope they didn’t tie up/your hands as tight as mine” makes me tear up.) But the heartbreaking lyrics are not the ones gratuitously describing rape and torture, and the song would be 110% better without said lyrics. Which, again, begs the question of why they were included in the first place.

There is a way to fix this: by changing the setting from a pirate ship to a British Royal Navy ship in the same general time period, you have an environment that would call for a brutal punishment of sodomites, probably much in the manner Cosmo Jarvis so desperately wants to talk about (for whatever reason). Better yet, change the setting and remove the torture lyrics entirely. Having to hide your love in the face of death is plenty sad enough; we don’t need yet another example of Rape Is The New Dead Parents.

And there are other ballads about queer love at sea that highlight both romance and homophobia without getting into Hostel territory. The Ballad of Mateloge and Mutiny, while not yet set to music, gives us a thrilling tale of a believable homosexual relationship meeting a tragic end on the ocean. (Come on, a queer romance that ends in gay zombie pirate revenge! What more could you want?)

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